At 9:42 p.m. on Saturday, November 4, 1995, I was driving to the offices of The Jerusalem Post on Yirmiyahu Street in Jerusalem, to deliver the floppy disk with my weekly article. The radio was on, and I heard the announcement that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin had been shot by a Jewish assassin on his way out of the demonstration for peace and against violence that had taken place at Malchei Yisrael Square in Tel Aviv.
I do not remember what my article was about, but I immediately made a U-turn and returned home. At 11:15 p.m. Eitan Haber announced Rabin’s death. Despite the total shock and tears I sat down at my computer to write a new article.
I recently looked up the article I wrote on that cursed night, which was published on Monday, November 6, 1995, and came across three paragraphs I had forgotten about.
In his last full-scale interview, on the Moked interview program, Rabin spoke calmly and clearly about the need to deal with the atmosphere of political violence in our society.
He refused to absolve Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu of responsibility for helping create this atmosphere.
Today, Prime Minister Netanyahu certainly regrets not having spoken out more loudly and clearly against the dangerous atmosphere which was gathering momentum at that time.
But perhaps one of Rabin’s fatal mistakes was refusing to meet with the Likud leader to discuss ways and means of allowing the legitimate but bitter political debate between Right and Left to continue without the danger of violence and murder.
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I looked up the TV interview, that had taken place on November 1, 1995, and listened to Rabin’s answer to the question posed by reporter Ehud Ya’ari as to why he had refused to meet Netanyahu. Rabin replied that Netanyahu was part of the incitement, and accused him of hypocrisy, adding “I do not believe him.”
It was not that Netanyahu had himself called Rabin a traitor, worthy of death – as the inflamed, frenzied audiences at the rallies he participated in shouted. Indeed, on several occasions he proclaimed that Rabin was very wrong, but not a traitor (the infamous rally at Zion Square in Jerusalem on October 5, 1995, was apparently not one of these occasions). It was simply that by delivering fiery speeches against Rabin in which he didn’t always choose his words carefully, and expressing complete contempt for the prime minister in interviews (in one of them he stated that Rabin was out of his mind), he seemed to justify the emotions of those who called Rabin a traitor and – with the approval of some rabbis – called for his death. When one views the footage from some of the rallies one cannot stop wondering how Netanyahu agreed to remain at them while the frenzied yelling went on.
Twenty-two years have gone by, of which Netanyahu has been prime minister for 11, but the incitement against those who support Rabin’s heritage of seeking peace without compromising Israel’s security, who admire the example of personal integrity by which Rabin lived and who believe in the rule of law and substantive democracy that combines majority rule with inalienable minority rights, continues to thrive.
At the official ceremony on Mount Herzl in commemoration of Rabin last Wednesday morning, Rabin’s son, Yuval, spoke of the number one existential threat to Israeli society that emerged during his father’s second premiership – that of incitement, hatred and division – and indirectly accused Netanyahu of responsibility for the incitement today against an ever-growing number of personalities and groups in the Israeli society. “It is high time that a declaration emerge from the house on Balfour Street, that will call for the total elimination of violence and hatred from the home of us all,” said Yuval.
Netanyahu listened to Yuval Rabin with a glum expression, and in his speech in the Knesset ceremony in commemoration of Rabin that afternoon claimed that he was picking up the glove that Yuval had hurled at him. “I call for national reconciliation and fraternity... I call for uniting around the security and political principles that are common today to a majority of the people,” he said, totally ignoring the issue of incitement, which had been the gist of what Yuval had spoken about.
Most of this incitement comes from Netanyahu’s henchmen, party members and coalition partners, though he himself directly contributed such pearls as “the Left has forgotten what it is to be Jewish,” “the Arabs are swarming to the polling stations.
They are being driven there by buses provided by leftist associations,” and the suggestion (in a rare interview with Channel 10, on September 24, 2016) that there was a concrete danger that NGO Breaking the Silence might man all the positions in the new broadcasting corporation, which besides being a figment of his imagination (not a single member of Breaking the Silence is employed by the corporation) implied that in his opinion human rights activists are not worthy of broadcasting on Israel’s public media.
Netanyahu’s reaction to Ilana Dayan’s documentary program on Channel 2 on November 7, 2016, that dealt with the highly worrying goings on in Netanyahu’s inner circle in the Prime Minister’s Office, which was based on serious evidence from persons who had been part of Netanyahu’s close entourage, was a libelous document that resulted in Dayan – one of Israel’s most serious investigative journalists – being cursed on social media, and having people wish strange diseases and forms of death on her. Of the many accusations hurled by Netanyahu at Dayan was that she had received an award from the New Israel Fund, which he referred to as “the anti-Zionist fund,” and that she had donated the award to an extreme left-wing association – Women Lawyers for Social Justice.
And all this is incitement that has come directly from Netanyahu personally – not the incitement by his associates against the president, the state attorney, the state comptroller, Supreme Court justices, the chief of staff and most recently the Knesset legal adviser, to name but a few “lefties” in the state service, for daring to differ with some of his coalition’s positions and proposed legislation.
Then there are the outrageous public attacks by his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners against Reform and Conservative Judaism, and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev’s viscious “cut de bullshit” campaign against Israel’s Ashkenazi cultural elites.
It was this that Yuval Rabin was referring to in his speech on Mount Herzl last Wednesday – not some imaginary consensus on security and political issues, based on a very selective reading of a speech Rabin had delivered in the Knesset a month before his assassination, and around which Netanyahu proposes to unite the people of Israel.
In short, Rabin was right back in 1995 about Netanyahu’s hypocritical approach to fighting incitement and improving national unity. Picking up the glove that Yuval Rabin hurled at him last Wednesday must involves more than just empty words. First and foremost it must involve personal example.
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